IRVINGTON, NJ – When people talk about the best high school football players to ever come out of Essex County, names like quarterback Frank Tripucka of Bloomfield and running back Aubrey Lewis of Montclair are always in the spotlight. Tripucka starred for the Bengals in the World War II era, while Lewis competed for the Mounties in the early 1950s.
On the defensive side, the name that always sticks out is linebacker Chet Parlavecchio of Seton Hall Prep. Parlavecchio, who grew up playing Pop Warner ball in Irvington, starred for the Pirates in the late 1970s when the school was located in South Orange. He then went on to a top college career at Penn State, and vied for a few years in the NFL with the Packers and Cardinals.
This fall marks the 40th anniversary of when Parlavecchio competed for perhaps the top defensive team in state history. In 1977, SHP went 10-0-1 and allowed but six points all season. And that TD came as a result of a fumble near the SHP goal line in the second game of the year. Tony Verducci’s squad still beat Bergen Catholic by a 22-6 count in that contest, and then at the end of the year, again beat Bergen Catholic, 15-0, in the state championship game.
“It’s hard to believe that this year is the 40th anniversary of that great team,” said Parlavecchio, who is now in his second stint as the head grid coach at Passaic Valley High School in Little Falls. “That season our squad had a host of outstanding players. Guys like Ed and Joe Aulisi, Mike Ragan and Vin D’Alessandro really stood out. And we were always motivated to play the best ball possible by Coach Verducci. I was so fortunate to play for him in high school and Joe Paterno in college. It doesn’t get any better than those two guys, believe me.”
Parlavecchio, whose son, Chet Jr., is the new head coach at New Providence, grew up with a true passion for the pigskin game.
“Our Pop Warner team, the Irvington Colts, could compete with anyone,” said Parlavecchio, who also serves as Dean of Students at Passaic Valley. “Back in the those days, all the kids I knew really enjoyed playing football. We wanted to play as much football as possible, and if the weather was bad and we got kind of dirty, who cared.
“But when we got to near high school age, guys went to other schools, not Irvington High School. My family moved to West Orange, and of course I ended up at SHP. In my sophomore year we were only 6-3, but in my junior season we were a perfect 11-0. Ferdy Masucci was the key guy on that team, but so many guys contributed.”
In the 1977 season opener, SHP beat Nutley, 18-0. Then after the win over BC, the Pirates topped Franklin, East Side and Paterson Eastside. However, in the sixth game of the year, SHP was held to a scoreless tie by an average Paterson Kennedy team.
“We could do nothing right in that game,” recalled Parlavecchio, whose favorite player in the NFL was linebacker Ray Nitschke of the Packers. “We had a bunch of chances to put up some points, but something always seemed to go wrong. We were very disappointed at the end of that game, to say the least.”
Seton Hall, which went 213-76-16 during the Verducci era (allowing but 8.1 points per game), bounced back in a hurry against Belleville, earning a crushing 63-0 win. After blanking Elizabeth, 35-0, SHP topped Queen of Peace, 13-0, in the first round of the North Jersey, Parochial A state playoffs. The Pirates tuned up for the state final by romping past Essex Catholic, 35-0.
“We played with great confidence,” said Parlavecchio. “When we won the coin toss before a game, we always kicked off because we knew we could stop the other team cold. Then when we got the ball, Ragan at QB could do the job to get us some points at the other end of the field. We had some good running backs to complement Mike.”
In college, Parlavecchio competed on some quality teams at Penn State. The big disappointment was losing a close game to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, in a contest that decided the national championship.
Injuries cut short Parlavecchio’s career in the NFL, but he still enjoyed his time in the pros. And as a coach, he’s had some top thrills.
“Winning a state title at Elizabeth in 2006 was a super feeling,” expressed Parlavecchio. “That team was pretty close to our squads at Seton Hall Prep in my junior and senior seasons.”
Parlavecchio, who has been friends for years with the great baseball writer for Sports Illustrated, Tom Verducci (son of Tony and a pretty good player also), has coached at Bloomfield, Irvington, Clifton and Elizabeth, aside from Passaic Valley.
“You have to accept the bad as well as the good,” reflected Parlavecchio. “What makes me proud is to see the kind of success that many of our kids have had after their football days were over. In the long run, that’s what counts the most.”
GRID NOTES – As a youth, Parlavecchio often played football at the grounds at Myrtle Ave. School in Irvington… In his days at SHP, Parlavecchio did a lot of training with the Aulisi brothers… Masucci calls Parlavecchio “the best football player I ever saw in high school.”…
In 1976 SHP had eight shutouts and allowed 36 points…
Two-way back John Merklinger, an underclassmen on the 1977 team, ranks with Parlavecchio as the top player in SHP history…
In 1988 Parlavecchio was inducted into the SHP Hall of Fame…SHP scored 290 points in 1977… The school moved to West Orange in the summer of 1985… Parlavecchio’s first job as a coach was at Governor Livingston HS when he was a defensive coordinator… Parlavecchio was a coach with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans as a Linebackers Coach for one season and a Special Teams Assistant for two years… Parlavecchio was a Linebackers Coach at Temple University for two years.